Photos: Christopher Doyle, Claire Wilkinson, Colin Rose, Filzstift, James Gray, Les Chatfield, Loz Pycock, Mike Roberts, Pizzodisevo, Reuters, Sue Jackson, www.explorerdirect.co.uk, YouTube
#1. Sion Airport: Nestled in the heart of the Alps, the approach to Sion
airport takes you down the Rhone valley. With the high mountain terrain to
negotiate, your airline or private jet pilot will be radar vectored by Swiss
military air traffic control to the initial approach point, after which the
navigation is simple: fly straight down the valley with the cliffs above you,
circle the town, and avoid the hospital for a perfect touchdown at Europe's
most stunning airport.
#2. Princess Juliana Airport: The Princess Juliana airport on the island of St
Maarten (Saint Martin) is exceptionally close to the beach, with private jet
aircraft and airliners literally skimming over the heads of holidaymakers. At
the end of the runway is the sunset bar area - the ultimate planespotter's
viewing spot. Riding the fence is a local ritual: thrillseekers sit on the
fence and hang on while jet blast blows at them as a 747 takes off.
#3. St Barts Airport: The Caribbean island of St Barts is just a few minutes
connecting flight from Princess Juliana on St Maarten. With a very short
runway, it does not cater to international jet flights - only scheduled and
private charter propeller services. The approach is thrilling: with very tight
angles, hills, unusual wind conditions and the short runway to negotiate,
there's little margin for error and only the most qualified and highly-trained
pilots can land there.
#4. Gibraltar Airport: Gibraltar airport is owned by the Ministry of Defence as
RAF Gibraltar. Private jet operators also use the airport to arrange private
jet charter to and from Gibraltar - and civilian airlines for flights to the UK
#4. Gibraltar Airport: The airport has the distinction of being the closest to
the city that it serves, being only 500 metres from Gibraltar's city centre.
The runway is actually intersected by a main road which has to be closed every
time a plane lands or departs. The rock of Gibraltar looms large on the
stunning approach, causing unusual wind patterns and turbulence.
#5. Altenrhein Airport: Altenrhein has an idyllic setting between Lake
Constance and the alpine foot hills of the Appenzell region in Switzerland. It
was built in 1927-1928 by pumping mud from nearby Lake Constance (Bodensee)
onto a swampy area close to the shore line. Almost in the middle of this area a
turf runway was built, laterally marked on both sides by a ditch which was
filled up with yellow gravel from the Jura mountain range on the French border.
The airport is used by airlines and for private jet charter flights.
#6. Madeira Funchal Airport: The runway at Madeira's Funchal airport (also
known as Santa Catarina) is bordered by water on one side and hills on the
other and was rebuilt in 2000 to include a stunning bridge-like extension with
180 supporting pillars over the Atlantic, providing both a dramatic view and
additional car parking (underneath!).
#6. Madeira Funchal Airport: Before the rebuild, Madeira's airport was infamous
for its short runway which, surrounded by high mountains and the ocean, made it
a tricky landing for even the most experienced of pilots. The new runway now
allows both airlines and private jets to land at Madeira Funchal.
#7. London City Airport: As the closest airport to London's city centre, the
approach to London City airport provides a highly scenic approach over
world-famous London landmarks. Air Traffic Control will route you around the
London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, before descending you down
the side of Canary Wharf with amazing views of the O2 music venue.
#7. London City Airport: The approach is unique as the glide path is set at
stomach-churning 5.8 degrees as opposed to the usual 3, making for a fairground
ride-like buzz. The runway is described by pilots as an 'aircraft carrier':
relatively short and surrounded by the River Thames. On the ground, London City
airport provides some of the best private jet and business aviation services in
Europe to its passengers.